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JOE ZAWINUL AND WEATHER UPDATE

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Joe Zawinul (keyboards), Steve Khan (guitar), Victor Bailey (bass), Robert Thomas, Jr. (percussion), Peter Erskine (drums)
Audio:  Dolby Stereo and 5.1
Video:  Color Full Frame
Studio: 
Geneon Entertainment
Features:  Musician biographies
Length:  60 Minutes plus biographies
Release Date:  September 13, 2005

Film **1/2

A native of Budapest, Hungary, Joe Zawinul has often been at the center of great jazz.  A gifted player and composer as well, he played piano for alto sax great Cannonball Adderly and wrote standards such as Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.  He also joined the Miles Davis group right when Davis started exploring electronic jazz and wrote the seminal composition In a Silent Way.  In 1970 he founded pioneering fusion ensemble Weather Report with fellow Miles Davis alumnus Wayne Shorter on saxophone and Slavic bass wonder Miroslav Vitous.  Their recordings are exciting studies in group improvisation with a third-world urgency and atmosphere, as if they were recording in a jungle instead of a studio.  The group’s zenith was captured on the legendary live recording 8:30 with the incomparable Jaco Pastorius on electric bass and fusion master Peter Erskine on drums.  Zawinul led the ensemble to new heights with his compositional adventures such as the famous swing-fusion Birdland and the soulful A Remark You Made, and at the height of his success with The Police, Sting cited Weather Report as his favorite band.   In many ways they remained more jazz-like than Chick Corea’s Return to Forever or John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu orchestra, whose playing was furious and sometimes cacophonous to even the most devoted jazz fan and betrayed more than a passing rock influence.  In 1985, Weather Report finally disbanded for good after recording seventeen albums.

While this show of a post-Report band is only an hour, it is pretty well-shot, the audio is excellent, and the ensemble’s energy and freshness is contagious.  It is also valuable as the only document of this lineup, which never recorded an album.  Sadly, the compositions are far below the level of genius Zawinul hit with Weather Report.  There are no melodies to hum or soaring chord progressions that mark most of his compositions.  On the plus side, Victor Bailey’s startlingly Jaco-like ability is a joy to behold.  There was never a guitarist in Weather Report, either, so hearing Khan;s distinctive tone interacting with Zawinul is unique.  Peter Erskine continues his tradition of excellent drumming which never goes stale and holds the ensemble together. 

Video ***

A serviceable shoot with multiple angles of all performers and a clear picture without artifacts.

Audio ***1/2

Weather Report was known for having an extremely wide dynamic range, often switching from gentle jazz swing to angry rock ferocity in a flash, and this ensemble often does the same.  The cohesiveness and interesting solos featured in the recently released Chick Corea Akoustic Band DVD are not to be found here, but the mix of this particular show is very good and DVD allows for a full dynamic range similar to being there for the show itself.  “Dr. Honoris Causa” is an excellent example of this dynamic range.

Features *

Scrolling text biographies of the musicians are the only features.

Summary :

A captured moment in jazz history is forever preserved on DVD.    Not a good introduction to jazz but valuable for Zawinul disciples.

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